Local Government

McHenry County Board debates ordinance to slash tax levy by 10 percent

WOODSTOCK – The McHenry County Board is on track to vote Tuesday to commit to a significant reduction of its tax levy.

Board members Thursday at their Committee of the Whole meeting discussed the resolution that would put county government on record to cut its property tax levy by 10 percent for next year. But although a handful of board members expressed concern about the idea, a number of them want to get the resolution approved and the process started.

If approved Tuesday evening, the resolution would be a promise in writing to property owners to cut at least $7.9 million in taxation and spending, based on its $79.3 million tax levy for this year. It also will create an ad-hoc Committee on Tax Reduction, consisting of just less than half of the entire board, to develop ways to meet the goal by a June 30 deadline.

The bipartisan resolution was developed by Republican board member Andrew Gasser, R-Fox River Grove, and Democratic Board Chairman Jack Franks, who ran last year on a platform of slashing the levy by at least 10 percent. However, it was softened last week by the Finance and Audit Committee to make the cut a goal rather than an absolute.

Board member Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, said she believes the process the resolution sets up is irresponsible, calling it a “buzz saw mentality.” Kurtz unsuccessfully ran in last week’s election for Community High School District 155 Board on a slate whose platform included cutting the district’s taxes.

“We’re just going to cut, cut, cut, but if we’re not looking at the issue of how we make things more efficient, then we’re just going to be reducing what we provide to the people of this county, and there are a number of consequences that occur when we take away services,” Kurtz said.

But Franks, D-Marengo, pointed out that the committee created by the ordinance is meant to prevent haphazard or blind cuts. The 12-member committee consists of Franks, the chairmen of each standing committee and three other members, with Finance and Audit Chairman Mike Skala, R-Huntley, acting as vice chairman.

Franks defended the idea of setting a firm goal.

“We’re all in this together, and if after we do that, you don’t like it, you’re certainly free to vote no, but I think we need to set those goals and move forward,” Franks said.

Several other board members agreed. Member Chris Christensen, R-Cary, reiterated the same sentiment he did last week in the Finance and Audit Committee discussion – the board needs to stop debating the semantics of the ordinance and get going on cutting the levy.

“It’s time for the board to go to work,” Christensen said.

The County Board only can cut its own levy, not those of other local units of government to which residents pay taxes. County government accounts for just less than 10 percent of residential property tax bills in McHenry County – about two-thirds of the average bill goes to public schools.

Franks, who took office in December as the first popularly elected County Board chairman, has said that the county must lead by example – he wants to use his office as a bully pulpit to convince other governments to lower their taxes.

A study by the nonpartisan, Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation concluded that McHenry County has the 29th highest property tax burden for all counties nationwide. Other studies rank Illinois’ average burden as either highest or second highest of all 50 states.

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